Charlotte Hornets

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving says goodbye to Cleveland, hello to ‘a real, live sports city’

Former Duke point guard and new Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving says he loves the cosmopolitan vibe of Boston and the tradition of the Celtics.
Former Duke point guard and new Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving says he loves the cosmopolitan vibe of Boston and the tradition of the Celtics. AP

Clevelanders, maybe what you needed to keep All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in town was some more nightlife.

The way former Duke star Irving described it Wednesday morning, the bright lights of Boston are a stark contrast to Midwestern Cleveland. Irving requested a trade off the Cavaliers over the summer in what became a public divorce. The Cavaliers dealt Irving, a four-time All-Star, to their primary Eastern Conference rival, the Celtics, in August primarily to acquire a first-round pick originally held by the Brooklyn Nets.

“It’s exciting to be back on the East Coast,” said Irving, who grew up in New Jersey. “It’s fast-paced. A lot of different cultures, food and people. You get it all, especially in Boston.

“You would go to Cleveland, and it would be at nighttime, and things would be going on, but you just see a vast difference.”

A difference, too, Irving said between Boston and Cleveland as sports cities: “Boston, I’m driving in and (thinking), ‘I’m really playing in a real, live sports city?’ ”

It will be interesting how those quotes play back in Cleveland, when the Celtics open their season at Quicken Loans Arena Oct. 17. The Cavaliers drafted Irving No. 1 overall in 2011, following one injury-abbreviated season with the Blue Devils.

LeBron James returned to Cleveland after a stint with the Miami Heat and made the Cavaliers relevant. James’ and Irving’s teams played in the past three NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. The Cavs won the title in 2016.

Then Irving seemingly decided he wanted out of James’ shadow. The Celtics had the trade currency to make a deal happen, and now he is a key piece in the Celtics’ pursuit of an 18th NBA championship.

His new coach, Brad Stevens, says he’s found Irving engaging and inquisitive about assimilating quickly into his new surroundings. Irving, who was more a scorer than a facilitator playing alongside James, was asked if he’ll need to change how he approaches his job as a Celtic.

“Just got to play and figure it out. Be able to adjust on the fly,” said Irving, who averaged 25.2 points and 5.8 assists last season. “It’ s a lot of newness, lot of things you just have to figure out. Not just about the environment, but about yourself.

“This is a culture that has been established for a while - what Celtics basketball entails. For me that’s getting used to whatever that is.”

It’s about banners, in abundance. At their training facility, the Celtics have hung a blank one for whenever this franchise adds to its rich history.

“The most important one is the empty one,” Irving said. “I asked Brad one day, ‘Did you put that up there purposely for motivation?’ He said it’s been up there since the 2008 banner (the Celtics’ last title) went up. I know where the goal lies and the importance of it, and now we just figure out the steps to accomplish that.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129: @rick_bonnell